Methane detection in mines.


Mining is big business, with the world’s 50 largest mining companies worth a total of 1 trillion dollars (€0.81 trillion). Worldwide, the mining industry is responsible for the direct employment of 3.7 million people, with over 150 million indirectly supported by small-scale mining operations.  Many other sectors, such as high-tech industry, are also entirely dependent on mined supplies of materials.

Guardian NG detects methane

There is inherent danger in creating and operating within subterranean tunnels which results in a high mining date rate, over 5 deaths per day due to mining accidents recorded in China alone. This is a worldwide problem, with high-profile incidents in the last 10 years occurring in New Zealand, Russia and the US among others.

The most common source of mining accidents, particularly in coals mines, is an explosion of methane gas. Methane is a colourless, odourless gas which is trapped in mines as part of the coal formation process. As coal is formed from compressed plant matter methane is produced as a by-product then, when rocks are excavated, methane is released into the local atmosphere with potential deadly consequences.

Methane Explosions in Mines
Methane explosions in mines are the result of the concentration of a methane leak in a closed environment. If methane reaches a critical concentration in the air, which is between 5 to 15 % it can react with the oxygen to form carbon dioxide, water and heat. This reaction needs a source of ignition to begin. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an open flame, sparks from mining processes, or a high localised temperature (over 600 °C) on hot equipment, can be enough to cause an explosion.

The pressure wave created by a methane explosion is often more dangerous than the initial explosion. The waves can displace large amounts of coal dust, spreading highly flammable particles throughout the air. The dust can ignite as part of a chain reaction, spreading flames along the mining shaft, consuming any available oxygen to further fuel the fire and generating large amounts of toxic gases.

Safety Measures to Avoid Methane Explosions
Methane release is unavoidable in coal mines as it is always present. The problem with methane explosions is not just restricted to active mining sites either. Many abandoned also leak methane gas, potentially into residential areas where it can still reach high enough concentrations to be at risk of explosion.

The risk of methane gas accumulation in mines means that gas sensing is an essential part of any mining safety network. To reduce the risk of methane build up, ventilation equipment is used in mines to keep methane concentrations below the explosion limit.

Sensors can be placed at ventilation exits to mine, measuring the outgassing of methane to determine that the methane concentration in the mine itself is not close to critical methods. External sensors are also important to monitor the release of methane to the environment surrounding the mine.

In order for gas sensing to be an effective safety measure, the gas sensors used must be able to detect low methane concentrations at a high reliability.

The Guardian NG for Methane Detection
One sensor range that is suited to the critical safety issue of detecting methane outgassed from mines is the Guardian NG series from Edinburgh Sensors. Capable of detecting methane concentrations between 0-1%, these infra-red based sensors are sensitive enough to detect even the smallest of leaks.

The Guardian NG series is designed as an easy-to-use, standalone gas sensor that can continually monitor and log methane concentrations in conditions where the gas is present between 0 – 100 % volume, with the most sensitive sensor being able to detect between 0-1%. The sensor has an impressively rapid 1.5 minute warm-up time and is capable of operating in a range of conditions varying from 0 – 95 % relative humidity and 0 – 45 °C.

What makes the Guardian NG series particularly well-suited to mining applications is they can be easily integrated in to existing ventilation equipment. As the sensor itself is electronic and could generate sparks, it should be situated on the surface of the mine measuring gas concentrations released from the mine vents. This provides a guarantee that ventilation systems are working and can also be used to monitoring the off-gassing of old mining sites.

Infra-red sensors offer some advantages over the traditional heat of combustion sensors that are typically used for mining applications and are commonly used in other areas where methane detection is required as methane absorbs infra-red light very strongly at characteristic wavelengths. They also offer faster response times and potentially have longer service lives than heat of combustion sensor alternatives.

One huge advantage of IR sensors in safety applications is the fail-safe nature of the technology. If the IR lamp, and therefore the sensor, fails then no signal is received by the detector, which is an equivalent effect to the sensor detecting a high methane concentration. As a result, a full alarm would sound, notifying staff that the sensor has failed and there is a potentially dangerous situation.

With its sensitivity and accuracy for methane detection and short response time of less than 30 seconds from sample injection, the Guardian NG series offers one answer to the critical safety issue of explosion prevention in mining.


@Edinst #PAuto

Connecting, communicating and creating in Netherlands.


The country of the Netherlands is where the Rhine enters the sea. It is a country which has physically built itself out of the inhospitable North Sea. Often called Holland – which is the name of one (actually two) of its provinces – it even more confusingly for the English speaking world inhabited by the Dutch speaking Dutch. If you really want to know more about Holl.. er sorry, The Netherlands watch the video at the bottom of this piece.

Although not officially the capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam is, The Hague is the seat of Government and official residence of the King. It was selected by the Emerson User Group as the venue for their European, Middle East & African assembly, refereed to as #EMrex on twitter. These assemblies – can we say celebrations? – occur every two years. The last was held in Brussels, the capital of the neighbouring Kingdom of the Belgians and of the European Union. An sccount of happenings there are in our postin “All change at Brussel Centraal.” (18/4/2016)

The size of this event was in marked contrast to the Brussels meet which was overshadowed by the terrible terrorist attacks in that city only three weeks earlier which presented transport difficulties. This time there were over one thousand six hundred delegates filling the huge hall of the Hague Convention Centre.

Another difference referred to in many of the discussions both formal and informal were the two great uncertainties effecting all businesses and industries – the possibility of a trade war with the USA under its current administration and nearer home the aftermath of the BREXIT decision – the exit of the British from the largest economic bloc on the planet. Many developments have been put on the long finger pending clarification on these issues.

Mary Peterson welcomes delegates

Why are we here?
This event continued in the vein of previous meetings. The emphasis continuing to move to perhaps a more philosophical and certainly a more holistic view of how the automation sector can help industry. This was made clear in the introductory welcome by Novartis’s Mary Peterson, Chair of the User Group, when she posed the question, “Why are we here?”

“This is a conference for users by users.” she said. It is a place to discuss users’ practical experiences; continuing our profissional development; learning best practice and proven solutions and technology roadmaps. But above all it presented an opportunity to connect with industry leaders, users and of course Emerson experts.

For other or more detailed information on happenings and/or offerings revealed at this event.
News Releases

and on Twitter #EmrEx

The emphasis is on the totality of services and packages not on individual boxes. Emerson’s European President Roel Van Doren was next to address the assembly. We should know our plant but be unafraid to use expertese and knowledge to keep it fit for purpose. Monitor the plant constantly, analyse what is required and then act. This means seeing how the latest advances might improve production. This means harnessing the “new technologies.” In passing he drew our attention that Emerson had been recognised earlier this year as ‘Industrial IoT Company of the Year’ by IoT Breakthrough.

The path is digital
A very striking presentation was given by Dirk Reineld, Senior VP Indirect Procurement with BASF. He brought us to the top of Rome’s Via de Conciliazione on 19th April 2005. We saw the huge crowd looking towards the centre balcony as the election of a new pope was announced. He then moved forward to the 13th March in 2013, the same place but what a difference in such a short time. This time it seemed that everybody had a mobile phone held to take photographs of the announcement of the election of Francis. All we could see was a sea of little screens. He used this to emphasize a point “We are underestimating what is happening & its speed.” This is not helped by a natural conservatism among plant engineers. Change is happening and we either embrace it or get left behind. It is becoming more and more clear that in front of us “the path is digital!” He presented some useful examples of digitalisation and collaboration at BASF.

Something in this particular EmrEx emphasised how things are moving and those unprepared for the change. Among some of the press people and others there was disappointment expressed that there was not a printed programme as in previous years. This correspondent is used to going away into a corner and combing through the printed agenda and selecting the most relevant sessions to attend. This was all available on line through the “Emerson Exchange Web App.” This was heralded as a “a great preshow planning tool.” All we had to do was enter a link into our our web-browser on our phones and away you went. Yes this is the way to go certainly and although I am inclined to be adventurous in using social media etc I and some (if not many) others found this a step too far to early. It was not clear that a printed version of the programme would not be available and the first hour of a conference is not the best time to make oneself au fait with a new app.

Having said that while many of the journos took notes using pencil and paper they were not adverse to taking photos of the presentation slades so they could not be said to qualify as complete luddites!

Terrific progress but…

Rewards of efficiency
This event was being held at the same time as CERAWeek 2018 in which Emerson was an important participant. Some Emerson executives thus made the trans Atlantic journey to make presentations. One of those was Mike Train, Emerson’s Executive President who delivered his talk with no apparent ill effects. In effect he was asking a question. “Just how effective is progress?” Yes, we HAVE made phenomenal progress in the last 30 years. “Modern automation has made plants more efficient, reliable and safer, but, the ‘Efficiency Era’ is reaching diminishing returns….Productivity seems to be stagnation while the workforce is stretched.”

He postulated five essential competancies for digital transformation.

  1. Automated workflows: Eliminate repetitive tasks and streamline standard operations.
  2. Decision support: Leverage analytics and embedded exportise.
  3. Mobility: Secure on-demand access to information and expertese.
  4. Change management: Accelerate the adoption of operational best practices.
  5. Workforce upskilling: Enable workers to acquire knowledge and experience faster.

Making the future!

Making the future
The next speaker was Roberta Pacciani, C&P Manager Integrated Gas and Upstream Technology with Shell. She is also President of the Women’s Network at Shell Netherlands. She spoke on leveraging the best available talent to solve future challenges. I suppose that we would have classified this as a feminist talk but of course it isn’t. As the presenter said it is not so much a feminist issue as a people issue. “Closing the gender gap in engineering and technology makes the future.”  This was a useful presentation (and in this correspondent’s experience unusual) and hopefully will be helpful in changing perceptions and preconceptions in STEM and our own particular sector.

As partof EmrEX there is an exhibition, demonstration area. Delegates may see innovative technologies applied to their plant environment. They meet with experts about topics such as getting their assets IIoT ready or how to use a Digital Twin to increase performance and explore options to prepare their plant for the future. As a guide – printed as well as on-line – the produced a Metro-like guide.
Using this we could embark on a journey through products, services and solutions where Emerson together with their partners could help solve operational and project challenges.

One of the most popular exhibits was the digital workforce experience. Here we visited a plant and were transported magically to former times to see just how different plant management is now and particularly with the help of wireless and digitisation.

It happened!

One of the good things about this sort of event is the opportunity to meet friends for the first time though social media. Sometimes one does not know they are attending unless the tweet something. Thus I realised that an Emerson engineer was present and so I went looking for him in the expos area. This it was that Aaron Crews from Austin (TX US) and I met for the first time after knowing each other through twitter & facebook for a frightening ten years. Another of these virtual friends, Jim Cahill, says, “It hasn’t happened without a picture!” So here is that picture.

The following morning there were a series of automation forum dedicated to various sectors. The Life-Sciences Forum was one which was very well attended.  Ireland is of course a leader in this sector and we hope to have a specific item on this in the near future. Emerson have invested heavily in the national support services as we reported recently.

Each evening there were social events which provided further opportunities for networking. One of these was a visit to the iconic Louwman Transport Museum where reside possibly the largest collections of road vehicles from sedan chairs through the earliest motor cars up to the sleekest modern examples. These are all contained in a beautiful building. The display was very effectively presented and one didn’t have to be a petrol-head – and believe me there were some among the attendance – to appreciate it.

It is impossible to fully report an event like this in detail. One can follow it on twitter as it happens of course. And there will be copies of many of the presentations and videos of some of the sessions on the website.

The Emerson User Group Exchange – Americas will continue “spurring innovation” in San Antonio (TX USA) from 1st to 5th October 2018. It looks exciting too.

We promised at the top of this blog an exposé of the country often called Holland in English –

So now you know!

@EMR_Automation #Emrex #Pauto

Robust and reliable data communications support in Czech mining enterprise.


In times of increasing digitisation of industrial processes, the importance of robust and reliable data communications is becoming more evident. The communication network is often critical to operations and failure to get data from A to B can have serious impact on production. Data networks supporting monitoring and control systems within mining applications require a special kind of robustness. Not only do the operating conditions include fluctuating temperatures, dust and dirt, but there is also constant vibration, which is extremely tough on network devices and cables.

The Vršany Lom brown coal surface quarry is using Westermo Lynx Switches and Wolverine Ethernet extenders to make up its entire data communications network.

The sheer size of an open-pit mine makes it difficult to maintain a data network and the need to constantly move mining equipment puts a considerable stress on the network cables.

Monitoring from the control room.

At Vršany Lom, one of the largest mines in the Czech Republic, all of these challenges have been overcome with the implementation of robust industrial networking technology from Westermo. Vršany Lom is a brown coal surface quarry located in the North Bohemian coal basin near the town of Most. The site is mined by Vršanská uhelná a.s., which is a part of the Sev.en group, a major European mining company responsible for the largest coal reserves in the Czech Republic.

Over the course of an eight-year period, Marek Hudský, chief technical engineer at Vršanská uhelná a.s., has strived to create the perfect monitoring and control system and supporting data communications network.

“The communications network is my responsibility and something I have designed, built and improved over many years,” explains Marek. “The continuous improvements have made a massive impact to overall production. The average time to transport the coal from the mine to the collection site has been reduced from 25 minutes to less than four minutes. On an annual basis this adds up to an extra month’s worth of production.

Control of the bucket wheel excavator is performed by the operator, but the communications network enables operation to be monitored from the central control room.

“This significant improvement has been achieved by reducing network downtime, which previously was very common and required many hours of maintenance. Today, interruptions to production due to network issues are rare.”

The Vršany Lom open-pit quarry covers an enormous area and mining takes place at several locations simultaneously. The coal is extracted using large bucket wheel excavators and loaded onto kilometer long conveyor belts that transport it to the collection site. Some sections of the conveyors are permanently positioned, whilst others are moved as the digging location changes.

Conveyor belts stretching out over many kilometers transport coal to a central collection point. The data communication cables are installed along the conveyors, connecting monitoring and control equipment for the excavators and conveyors to the control room.

The entire network is now running entirely on Westermo WeOS-powered devices, consisting of 60 Westermo Lynx switches and 40 Wolverine Ethernet extenders. The data communication equipment and cabling are installed along the conveyor belts. This connects several hundred sensors that provide critical operational data to the central SCADA system, which helps to ensure safe and effective mining. Fibre optic cables are located inside the permanent conveyors, with the Lynx switches installed in substations at set points along the conveyor belts. The fibre network is configured in a ring topology with Westermo’s FRNT super-fast ring reconfiguration protocol providing network reconfiguration times of less than 20 ms.

“The fibre network works flawlessly. The switches and cables have been in operation for quite a while now and have required very little maintenance,” explains Marek. “The real challenge is the data communication closer to the actual mining. This is where operating conditions are really tough due to continuous vibration and electromagnetic interference from the machines. Also, because the equipment needs to be constantly moved this exposes the cabling to constant wear and tear.

“We have been familiar with Westermo technology since the days of short haul modems. We knew they produced high quality products and when first introduced to the Wolverine Ethernet Extender we were immediately interested. At that point we were using a custom-made communication device, which was not really suitable for a tough mining environment. It caused regular network downtime, maintenance and production standstills, which was a completely unsustainable situation.”

“The first thing that appealed to me about the Wolverine was that was able to provide reliable data communication over regular twisted pair copper cables,” said Marek. “We use copper cables because they can withstand a lot more abuse than fibre before failing, however, when the digging location changes cabling is often bent, cut and sliced, which can reduce the quality of signal. . Despite this we are still able to achieve reliable data communication thanks to the Wolverine device which enables reliable communication even if the copper cabling is not in pristine condition. Secondly, the device had the robust characteristics that are needed to operate reliably in this type of environment. Finally, the Wolverine offered a lot of functionality, such as super-fast ring reconfiguration, LLDP and SNMP that enabled both a very technically advanced and very robust network solution.

“It has been quite a long process of continued improvement to get to where we are right now with the network in terms of functionality and reliability. Last year, I replaced the remaining legacy devices. We are now running the network entirely using Westermo WeOS-powered products and I am very pleased with the overall performance.

“We have always looked for that next improvement that will further strengthen the resilience of the monitoring and control system. By selecting Westermo products and utilising the WeOS operating system to its full capacity, Vršanská uhelná will now see many years of robust and trouble-free data communications.”

@Westermo #PAuto

Electric vehicle pioneer favours wireless test rigs.


A company that has been at the forefront of electric vehicle design and development for over 20 years has supplied a test rig based on a wireless torque sensor to a world renowned British University automotive research facility.

Tirius has been built on pioneering work on an all-electric single seat racing car and a series of record breaking vehicles. It continues to bring the latest technology to clients in the form of product design and development and the provision of its range of electric drive systems.

Head of Tirius, Dr Tim Allen, explains: “We are helping the university’s research team develop electric drive train technology typically found in ‘A-Class’ cars, for example urban runarounds and small family hatchbacks. Specifically we are currently looking at permanent magnet traction motors in a number of sizes and configurations, with a view to optimising electronic control for each motor type.”

The research involves running each motor on a test rig through its full output range and mapping its torque output at many points to build up a performance profile. The design of the controller can then be matched to the motor characteristics. This should be able to ensure that the motor runs in its optimum operating zone as much as possible, maximises motor life and regenerative braking, minimising wear, and is as energy efficient as possible.

The design of the test rig is in fact quite simple, thanks to the torque sensor, a TorqSense, as made by Sensor Technology.

“We are pleased to promote TorqSense and the guys at Sensor Technology,” says Tim. “We have been using their kit for many years and in many different roles. The bottom line is that they are easy to use, accurate and great value – partly because they can be re-used once their original project has been completed.

TorqSense is a good choice for this work because its non-contact operation allows rapid set-up during the profile building test runs. It also means extra drag forces are not added to the system, so measurements represent true values and calculations are therefore straightforward.”

TorqSense uses two piezo-electric combs which are simply glued to the drive shaft at right angles to one another. As the shaft turns it naturally twists along its length very slightly and in proportion to the torque, which deforms the combs changing their piezo-signature. This change is measured wirelessly by a radio frequency pick up and is a measure of the instantaneous torque value.

Its data is output to a very user-friendly computer screen which uses graphics to aid easy interpretations. In fact the display on the computer is similar to a car’s dashboard, so most people understand it intuitively. Further, the data is automatically logged for further analysis.

Tim again: “With our type of research work there are some potential errors that we have to look out for, including time-based zero-drift, bending moments on the shaft, bearing losses, temperature fluctuations etc. These are easily accounted for with TorqSense-based test rigs. Normally you have to account for the drag caused by the slip rings, but the wireless TorqSense does not use them, so that is one less calculation – and one less fiddly fixing task.

“A great benefit of TorqSense is the ease with which it can be mounted and dismounted, which simplifies research work where frequent reconfiguring is required.”

The University project will take two or three years to complete and the TorqSense test rig will be worked hard during this time. “At the end of the work, I have no doubt that the TorqSense will be reused in a new research program. It’s what we do in-house at Tirius.”


@sensortech #PAuto

Enabling simple electronic marshalling of pneumatic systems.


The ASCO Numatics 580 CHARMs node enables simple Electronic Marshalling of pneumatic systems

Pneumatic systems are an essential part of many process plants, in industries such as chemical, life science and food & beverage, particularly those where ancillary machines are used. Although an essential part of the process, these machines are often stand-alone and are not connected back to the process control architecture. This could mean that should there be a problem with the machine’s pneumatic systems, it may not be communicated back to the control system, therefore leading to a breakdown of the machine. The plant may then continue to produce products that cannot go on for further processing or packaging.

Current architecture
Process control systems are normally able to accommodate pneumatics systems through the implementation of an additional fieldbus network, such as PROFIBUS-DP® or Modbus® TCP. However, this approach adds complexity through additional configuration and data mapping, and whilst supplementary diagnostics is possible, a second programming environment, with its associated costs, is not desirable and may not easily support communication and power redundancy.

In 2016 Emerson introduced electronic marshalling for pneumatic systems. This solution enables users to easily integrate the ASCO Numatics 580 Series valve islands, with Emerson’s DeltaV control system for a complete Emerson Automation I/O and pneumatics system solution for process plants.

What is Electronic Marshalling?
Control engineers and project managers working on continuous or batch-oriented processing plants will be familiar with the problems associated with commissioning I/O in distributed control systems. The traditional method involves field device connection through multi-cored cabling, wired to terminal blocks in control cabinets, with each connection then manually cross-marshalled to its appropriate I/O card. As system complexity increases and the number of connections accumulates – inevitable I/O changes abound – thus, difficulties arise in keeping track of each and every physical connection in the marshalling panel. Every change adds cost, delays, and most importantly risk to the project. Adding redundancy causes even more headaches. Furthermore, future maintenance and system modification is often made difficult with staff changes and system unfamiliarity, which can adversely affect down-time.

Whilst manual marshalling is still considered adequate for small projects, large-scale batch and continuous processes in areas such as chemical, pharma, and food manufacture – where lost production can result in truly excessive costs – increasingly turns to more risk averse and reliable process system design strategies.

Electronic Marshalling does away with the manual and labour-intensive practise of cross marshalling. The cables from the field are still wired in to the marshalling cabinet, but from there on in the connections to the controllers are handled electronically. It is now possible to map each I/O channel to any controller. Emerson manage this mapping with their CHARMs (CHARacterisation Modules). These are essentially analogue to digital conversion cards that may be characterised to perform any signal function (AI, AO, DI, DO, RTD etc.). They are ‘clicked’ on to CHARM I/O Cards (CIOC), which are in-turn mounted on DIN rail terminal blocks where field wiring is arranged; the field device is identified and the appropriate CHARM card is set up and Electronically Marshalled through a hidden digital bus to ANY controller in the system. Fully redundant power and communications connection is included, and autosensing each I/O channel means that identification, configuration, diagnostics and design changes are easily carried out by the DCS.

The technology provides many benefits, from the first design stages, to commissioning, and through the lifetime of processing oriented manufacture. As digital or analogue I/O of any type can be bound to specific controllers at any stage in the project without manual rewiring, hardware and design costs can be more predictable from the outset. Design changes – adding new I/O or changing I/O types – can be catered for without intensive labour and disruptive re-wiring costs. Projects become easier to scale, safety is assured. Configuration and diagnostics are taken care of by a single integrated software platform – Emerson’s DeltaV Explorer. Importantly the Total Cost of Ownership is significantly reduced, measured by increased operational certainty, process reliability and increased machine availability.

Integrating pneumatic valve islands into automation systems with CHARM technology.
The 580 Series CHARMs allows control engineers and project managers working on continuous and batch-oriented manufacturing projects a straightforward, cost saving and fast-track approach to the integration of pneumatic systems within the process control environment. The node facilitates single connection from the field to Emerson’s DeltaV™ DCS offering Electronic Marshalling, native configuration and diagnostics plus built-in redundancy – for a truly integrated system architecture.

•Download Whitepaper – 580 Charm

With the introduction of ASCO Numatics’ 580 CHARMs node, pneumatic systems’ integration with Electronic Marshalling is made possible within a single network platform – a one package and one supplier solution – for the first time. The 580 CHARMs node directly links to the DeltaV system via the CHARM baseplate and natively combines autosensing and Electronic Marshalling through redundant power and communication connection, harnessing the full native diagnostic capabilities of the DeltaV. From the DCS, each pilot valve is managed in exactly the same way as the other system I/O. The DCS can identify and marshal all the pneumatic connections through a single redundant connection with up to 48 valve solenoid outputs connected to each CHARM node.

The 580 CHARMs node interfaces with ASCO Numatics 500 Series valve islands. These high performance, “plug-in” directional control valves feature the highest flow capability for their product size, helping to keep machine footprints compact and lowering system costs, whilst a comprehensive range of accessories and options makes for easy installation, configuration and modification.

The cost and time benefits of simplified machine architecture
When compared to a manually, cross-marshalled, process manufacturing system for batch and continuous production scenarios, the benefits of a CHARMs technology based solution with Electronic Marshalling are apparent and compelling. When pneumatics require integration, and the solution is compared with the introduction of a fieldbus such as PROFIBUS-DP®, the benefits are even more convincing with the easy-to-use, task-based engineering environment that the DeltaV offers.

The elimination of a secondary network allows substantial savings in components, associated I/O, wiring, and commissioning time. The Emerson single network solution means single point responsibility for products, documentation and support, with savings for personnel, programming resources and system training. Reduced component count and direct connection equals a reduced risk of system failure. Design changes throughout project development and future troubleshooting is made easier with embedded intelligent control with autosensing and plain message workstation diagnostics. Shutdown time is significantly reduced thanks to integral diagnostics directly on the valve island or displayed on the DeltaV systems workstation. Reliable redundant connection ensures safety and reduces maintenance down time. Further compelling benefits include flexibility in process control thanks to every CHARM I/O from voltage and current sensors to alarms and pilot valves sharing the same DeltaV Explorer configuration, and being available in the ‘cloud’ to any controller in the network.

These factors combine for a tightly integrated solution for I/O and pneumatic valve islands that delivers more complete project and operational certainty, comprehensive control optimisation and processing reliability.


Ensuring pure air in Scottish towns.


In North Ayrshire, Scotland, monitoring activities have demonstrated that the main local air quality issues are related to traffic congestion caused by a section of the High Street in Irvine, which is being used as a bus terminus, and by queuing traffic at New Street in Dalry. In both locations the pollutant of most concern is Nitrogen Dioxide.

Sensor on street in Irvine.

North Ayrshire Council operates a fixed continuous air quality monitoring station (AQMS) in Irvine High Street which supplies data to Scottish Air Quality website.

“Data from the AQMS is supplemented by portable monitoring equipment that is installed at key locations,” reports the Council’s Willie McNish. “Passive diffusion tubes provide approximate monthly average data, but over the last 2-3 years we have started using AQMesh air quality monitors. Three ‘pods’ have been installed in pollution hotspots and a further AQMesh pod is used as a mobile device; installed temporarily in key locations to assist with air quality strategy development, and planning and development control.”

AQMesh air quality monitoring pods, from Air Monitors, are small, lightweight, wireless, battery or solar -powered air quality monitors that are quick and easy to install. They are able to monitor the main pollutants simultaneously, delivering accurate cloud-based data wirelessly via the internet. “We use the AQMesh pods for air quality screening,” reports Willie McNish, one of the Council’s Officers responsible for air quality monitoring. “The beauty of these monitors is that they provide almost real-time data that we can access via PC. This is really useful for detecting and predicting trends. For example, I can look at the current air quality measured by a pod and then look at the Met Office website for information on wind speed and direction, and this helps us to better understand the factors that affect air quality.”

The ease and speed with which AQMesh pods can be installed in almost any location is a major advantage in air quality investigations related to planning applications. For example, Willie says: “Concerns about dust and fumes from trucks were raised in connection with an application to extend the life of a landfill site by ten years (as less waste is being landfilled more time was required to fill it), but by locating an AQMesh pod (measuring gases and particulates) in an appropriate location, we were able to support the planning decision by demonstrating that air quality would not be harmed by the extension.”

Monitoring is also informing the development of traffic management strategies to reduce exposure to air pollution. In Irvine, Willie says: “The prevailing wind direction is from the South West, which creates a canyon effect, whereby air pollution accumulates within streets that are confined by buildings on both sides. This effect is exacerbated by queuing double-decker buses, so we plan to undertake remedial measures and monitor their effects.”

As a consequence of the elevated levels of Nitrogen Dioxide in Irvine, the Council will undertake public realm works (streetscape improvements) to widen the pavement, and one of the bus stops will be relocated. This will not only move the source of pollution away from the receptor, but also allow better dilution and dispersion of pollutants, without affecting the frequency of service or convenient access to public transport. In Dalry, a new bypass is due to be constructed and it is anticipated that this will lower Nitrogen Dioxide levels. In both locations, modelling has indicated that air quality will improve, but existing monitoring data will be compared with data once the work is complete, so that an effective evaluation of the effects on air quality can be performed.

Summarising the advantages of the Council’s air quality monitoring strategy, Willie says: “The AQMS in Irvine employs standard reference methods or equivalent, to measure air quality, so it is able to provide definitive data for comparison with EU limits. The station is serviced and maintained by Air Monitors and delivers extremely high levels of data capture. Since 2015 it has also included a FIDAS 200 particulate monitor, so we are now able to monitor TSP, PM10, PM4, PM2.5, PM1 and Particle Number simultaneously, which provides greater insight into the types of pollution and their likely sources.

“To complement the AQMS we also operate 4 AQMesh pods which provide the flexibility we need to monitor air quality in precisely the location of greatest importance. Web connectivity combined with Air Monitors’ reliability of service provides us with continuous access to accurate air quality data, which means that we are able to fulfil our statutory obligations as a Council, and also find ways to protect the health of people in North Ayrshire.”

@airmonitors #Pauto @scotairquality @_Enviro_News #Environment

Train derailment prompts contaminated land investigation.


A train derailment in Mississippi resulted in ground contamination by large quantities of hazardous chemicals, and environmental investigators have deployed sophisticated on-site analytical technology to determine the extent of the problem and to help formulate an effective remediation strategy. Here Jim Cornish from Gasmet Technologies discusses this investigation.

Jim Cornish

On March 30th 2015 a long freight train, transporting a variety of goods including lumber and chemicals, wound its way through the state of Mississippi (USA). At around 5pm, part of the train failed to negotiate a curved portion of the track in a rural area near Minter City, resulting in the derailment of nine railcars, one of which leaked chemicals onto agricultural farmland and woodlands. Emergency response and initial remediation activities were undertaken, but the remainder of this article will describe an environmental investigation that was subsequently conducted by Hazclean Environmental Consultants using a portable multiparameter FTIR gas analyzer from Gasmet Technologies.

Over 17,000 gallons of Resin Oil Heavies were released from the railcar, and the main constituent of this material is dicyclopentadiene (DCPD). However, in addition to DCPD, Resin Oil Heavies also contains a cocktail of other hydrocarbons including ethylbenzene, indene, naphthalene, alpha-methyl styrene, styrene, vinyl toluene, 1, 2, 3-trimenthylbenzene, 1, 2, 4-trimethylbenzene, 1, 3, 5-trimethylbenzene and xylenes.

DCPD is highly flammable and harmful if swallowed and by inhalation. Its camphor-like odor may induce headaches and symptoms of nausea, and as a liquid or vapor, DCPD can be irritating to the eyes, skin, nose, throat or respiratory system. DCPD is not listed as a carcinogen, however DCPD products may contain benzene, which is listed as a human carcinogen. DCPD is not inherently biodegradable, and is toxic to aquatic organisms with the potential to bioaccumulate.

It is a colorless, waxy, flammable solid or liquid, used in many products, ranging from high quality optical lenses through to flame retardants for plastics and hot melt adhesives. As a chemical intermediate it is used in insecticides, as a hardener and dryer in linseed and soybean oil, and in the production of elastomers, metallocenes, resins, varnishes, and paints. DCPD-containing products are also used in the production of hydrocarbon resins and unsaturated polyester resins.

Emergency Response
Emergency response phase activities were performed from March 31 through May 2, 2015. Response objectives and goals were formally documented by utilizing Incident Action Plans for each operational period. Activities between April 11 and April 28, 2015 were summarized in weekly reports and submitted to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Approximately 10,189 gallons of the leaked product was recovered, leaving 5,458 gallons to contaminate the farmland surface and subsurface soil, surface waters, groundwater and ambient air. The site contamination problem was exacerbated due to heavy rainfall and associated stormwater runoff which caused the unrecovered product to migrate from the spill site.

Taking account of the high rainfalls levels that followed the event, it was calculated that contaminated stormwater runoff from the immediate project site (10 acres with 8.7 inches of rainfall) was 2,362,485 gallons less that retained by emergency retention berms. Approximately 207,000 gallons of contaminated stormwater were collected during the emergency response, in addition to approximately 7,870 tons of impacted material which were excavated for disposal. Following removal of the gross impacted material, the site was transferred into Operation and Maintenance status, conducted in accordance with a plan approved by MDEQ.

Ongoing site contamination
Groundwater and soil samples were collected and analyzed in 2015 and 2016, producing analytical data which confirmed that widespread soil and groundwater contamination still existed at the site. Further remediation was undertaken, but the landowners were extremely concerned about the fate of residual chemicals and contracted Hazclean Environmental Consultants to conduct a further investigation.

“The affected land is used for agricultural purposes, producing crops such as soybeans and corn,” says Hazclean President, E. Corbin McGriff, Ph.D., P.E. “Consequently, there were fears that agricultural productivity would be adversely affected and that chemicals of concern might enter the food chain.
“This situation was exacerbated by the fact that the landowners could still smell the contamination and initial investigation with PID gas detectors indicated the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).”

Hazclean’s Joseph Drapala, CIH, managed and conducted much of the site investigation work. He says: “While PID gas detectors are useful indicators of organic gases, they do not offer the opportunity to quantify or speciate different compounds, so we spoke with Jeremy Sheppard, the local representative of Gasmet Technologies, a manufacturer of portable FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared) gas analyzers.

Soil Vapor Analysis with FTIR

“Jeremy explained the capabilities of a portable, battery-powered version of the Gasmet FTIR gas analyzer, the DX4040, which is able to analyze up to 25 gases simultaneously, producing both qualitative and quantitative measurements. Gasmet was therefore contacted to determine whether this instrument would be suitable for the Mississippi train spill application.

“In response, Gasmet confirmed that the DX4040 would be capable of measuring the target species and offered to create a specific calibration so that these compounds could be analyzed simultaneously on-site.”

Site investigation with FTIR analysis
A sampling zone was defined to capture potential contamination, and measurements were taken for surface and subsurface soil, groundwater, and surface and subsurface air for a range of VOCs.

Vapor Well

The area-wide plan resulted in the installation of four permanent monitoring wells for groundwater sampling, twenty vapor monitoring wells, and twenty test borings for field screening. The test borings indicated the presence of VOCs which were further characterized by sampling specific soil sections extracted from the parent core.

In addition to the almost instantaneous, simultaneous measurement of the target compounds, the Gasmet DX4040 stores sample spectra, so that post-measurement analyses can be undertaken on a PC running Gasmet’s Calcmet™ Pro software, providing analytical capability from a library of 250 compounds. “The Gasmet DX4040 was manufacturer-calibrated for dicyclopentadiene, benzene, ethylbenzene, naphthalene, styrene, toluene, 1,2,3-trimenthylbenzene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, 1,3,5-trimethylbenzene and m, o, and p and total xylenes at a detection range of 0.01 ppm to 100 ppm in air,” Joseph reports, adding: “The ability to compare recorded spectra with the Calcmet Pro library is a major advantage because it enables the measurement of unknown compounds.”

The operating procedures for the DX4040 indicate a simple, convenient requirement for daily calibration with zero gas prior to each monitoring activity. However, in addition to the use of nitrogen as the zero gas, Joseph also employed specialty gas (DCPD) certified for 1 ppm and 5 ppm as a calibration check and a response (akin to bump testing) gas.

Site screening
The test borings provided soil samples that were vapor-tested on-site as part of the screening process. Vapor from the extracted soil samples was analyzed by placing the soil samples in vessels at ambient temperature and connecting the DX4040 in a closed loop from the vessel, so that air samples could be continually pumped from the vessel to the analyzer and returned to the vessel. This screening activity helped to determine the location for vapor wells.

All soil samples were screened with the DX4040 and those with the highest reading from each boring were sent for laboratory analysis.

Vapor wells were fitted with slotted PVC liners and capped. Before monitoring, the cap was replaced with a cap containing two ports to enable the DX4040 to be connected in a similar closed-loop monitoring system to that which was employed for the soil samples.

As a result of this investigation it was possible for Hazclean to determine that the release of DCPD in the vapor state, as measured in the vapor monitor wells, is a result of surface and subsurface contamination in the soil and groundwater, and that this contamination will remain in the future.

Vapor analysis data provided by the DX4040 identified DCPD, benzene, styrene and xylene previously adsorbed on soil and/or wetted surfaces undergoing diffusion and evaporation. The adsorption, diffusion and evaporation of DCPD et al. released and spread across the farmland is a mechanism to explain the vapor concentrations found in vapor monitor wells as well as the ambient malodor problem.

The long term release of DCPD and other VOCs will continue to occur in the impact area unless a larger remediation project is conducted to remove soil and groundwater contamination. Furthermore, Hazclean recommends that, as a result of the effectiveness of the Gasmet DX4040 in this investigation, the same technology should be employed in any subsequent screening activities, using the same Gasmet calibration configuration.

Summarizing, Joseph Drapala says: “The Gasmet DX4040 was an essential tool in this investigation. Screening activities should have the ability to detect and identify the target compounds, as well as any secondary compounds that may have already been present on-site or could have been produced as a result of chemical interactions.
“As an FTIR gas analyzer, the DX4040 meets these requirements, providing enormous analytical capability through Gasmet’s Calcmet software. However, the instrument is also small, lightweight and battery powered which makes it ideal for field investigations.”